Reflecting the Chamber’s ongoing focus on a low carbon, green economy – a key priority of its 2021 Business Manifesto – the March Windsor Debates, sponsored by EY, provided an important opportunity to discuss the business case for sustainability and examine how the region’s business communities can work together to meet current and future challenges as well as inform the work of COP26.
Held as a series of six 90 minute virtual sessions, under the overarching theme of Building Back Better: Promoting intelligent climate planning and decarbonisation at speed, this flagship event was attended by senior business leaders and experts from a broad range of organisations across a wide variety of sectors throughout the region.
During the introductory session TVCC CEO, Paul Britton and Group President, Bill Gornall-King were joined by Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Examining the impact of COVID-19 and COP26 on the sustainability agenda for businesses nationally and regionally, they discussed whether Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment was a fundamental driver to future business growth.
Keynote speaker Harry Gaskell, who is the Purpose and Sustainability Leader at EY, set the scene for the sessions to follow, outlining the climate problem, business opportunities for achieving net zero and importance of regional ambition.
Showcasing best practice to address climate change, in collaboration with other locally based businesses, Simon Greenstreet, Head of Communications & Public Affairs, UK/Ireland at Bayer and Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications / Head of ECSAT at the European Space Agency, highlighted examples from within their own organisations.
A panel of students, from a cross-section of the region’s educational establishments, were invited to challenge senior business leaders from Microsoft, GWR and the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust on their businesses’ sustainability strategies. Topics raised included how they were planning to work both across and with stakeholders such as governments, communities, and other businesses to meet COP-26 and global climate agreement requirements.
The second day opened with a panel discussion on Decarbonisation at Speed, exploring where innovations were most needed to meet the decarbonisation challenge and what leadership in this field meant for organisations in the region. Speakers included Andrew Macmillan, Chief Carbon and Strategy Officer, Heathrow; Dr David Kingham, Executive Vice Chairman, Tokamak Energy Ltd and Jim Reay, Head of Crop Protection R & D Infrastructure, Syngenta.
A Roundtable focused on Building an effective environmental strategy – what does good look like? – saw a group of senior representatives from an array of sectors, led by Richard Baker, Managing Partner, Thames Valley & South East, EY, examine why businesses needed an environmental strategy, what such strategies should look like, how they could be built and the role of the business community.
Yvo de Boer, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, discussed what climate action could mean for future business models. Whether they could continue to grow; identifying opportunities to reduce overheads and waste; and whether brand image could be enhanced by behaviour when considering climate change.
Reflecting on the outcomes of the event’s discussions, Paul Britton, TVCC CEO said: “We need to consider what actions the business community can take collectively to address climate change as we approach COP26; and whether the Thames Valley, as an innovative technology hub for the UK, can and should lead the way.”
Richard Baker, Managing Partner, Thames Valley & South East, EY added: “It was great to see the enthusiasm and energy from all participants at the latest Windsor Debates, covering a variety of important topics, including the need for businesses to continue to evolve their environmental policies and support social strategies. There is a strong appetite from the business community for progressing their own plans for growth, as well as collaborating for the benefit of the wider region.”
To find out more about this and previous Windsor Debates events, please visit our dedicated Windsor Debates page.